As usual, a bit later than I had hoped. A small number of updates. The images are some fairly predictable seasonal ones from Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes (south of Beverley farm, east of Eliot path and west of Chaucer College). But perhaps less predictably, I ran into some Christ Church University 3rd Year Film Studies using the setting to make a film, so I’ve included a group picture of them too. They have promised to give me the link for the film when it is completed, so of course I’ll pass it on.
1. Keynes III Planning Application approved (5 February)
As expected, the student accommodation blocks on land north of Beverley farm and west of the existing Keynes college extension (‘Keynes II’) – between Giles Lane and University Road – received planning approval earlier this month. This was in line with the officer’s recommendation, as noted in the previous Blog. Keith Mander and Tom Ritchie (Kent Union President) spoke in favour of the proposal, and St Edmunds School, who occupy land close to the proposed site, objected. The main issue to emerge at the meeting was the question of the impact on St Edmunds School, who apparently had not been consulted by the University about Keynes III (which seems bizarre). Councillors explicitly dismissed some of the concerns raised (some with explanation and others without), although they simply did not discuss at all others. But they did acknowledge there was a legitimate worry about security, leading to a requirement to take this issue into account in handling boundary issues. This was reported in the local press.
In my view, it was disappointing that Councillors chose not to pick up on the issue of site selection, despite the officer’s explicit ‘reservations’ about this question, originally set out in in the context of the aborted 2011 application, and then restated once again in her report this year. Alternative options, including Park Woods and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking), were never thoroughly explored in a evidence-based way (separately or in combination), but dismissed by the University with unsubstantiated claims about cost and feasibility.
Why was the University not challenged on this aspect? I don’t know the answer to that. But my sense is that the Development Management Committee’s silence on that issue may reflect the wish to avoid further delays in meeting the need for offering further student accommodation. A year had already been lost because of the bungled initial application in 2011, yet the issue had become one which is widely regarded as being in need of urgent resolution. Presumably, no one wants to be seen to causing a further delay at this stage!
At the same time, we must hope lessons have been learned. In the longer run, if further accommodation needs emerge, and new proposals come through, the issue of site selection must surely be dealt with professionally and transparently. Any such proposals must be defended with an evidence-based approach. In my view, this would need to involve undertaking systematic and transparent evaluation of the full range of alternatives on and off campus in the context of a publicly negotiated Master Plan.
2. Kent Union’s approach after the all student vote
I am sometimes asked by members of the community what action Kent Union are taking in relation to Chaucer Fields? This question is posed in the aftermath of the All Student Vote last November, which made it official Union policy to “Campaign to save Chaucer Fields”. In the SoS Forum (see previous Blog), ideas for follow through action were already informally shared between the community and the champions of the policy from within KU.
I learned today that momentum for action is now formally coming to fruition at the level of the relevant committee charged with implementing the policy (Kent Union’s ‘community zone’), working with Kent Union’s President, Tom Ritchie. This is welcome news, and it seems we can look forward to some interesting initiatives in the months ahead. I’ll keep you up to date on these, as more information is released and as events unfold.
3. Kent @50
Many of you will be aware that the University’s 50th anniversary is approaching (and I already reported how this can be put in a much longer historical context vis a vis the Southern Slopes in the last Blog). The University is currently asking members of the “University community”, especially including former and existing staff and students, to submit ideas about this, please see:
The “ideas” are being posted on a “painted wall” using “wall wisher” or “padlet”, see below (use the link for a more legible, high resolution image)
You’ll note at present one mention of the fields, bottom left hand corner “promise not to build on Chaucer Fields”. However I have been told by several people that they have submitted Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes related “ideas”, framed much more positively and extensively than this rather bland statement. The ones I’ve seen tend to stress that the value of the fields as a positive asset for all should be recognised, and urge the University to commit, in various ways, to protect and/or enhance them as beautiful, shared unspoilt space. Indeed, the current moment of anniversary planning is seen as an opportunity to link this issue to University imperatives both to foster its own ‘community’, as well to develop healthy relations with the host community, .
If you consider yourself to be a member of the “university community”, perhaps you would also think about submitting a fields-related “idea”? If you do, please email me your submission. I am collecting these, so that justice can be done to the richness of people’s ideas. I have also opened an account with “wall wisher”, and eventually intend to create a “parallel wall” which will showcase the many positive and creative ideas which now seem to be emerging on this matter.
4. Upcoming events
You’ll recall from previous Blogs that next month is highly significant for the fields – with the public inquiry running regarding the Village Green application at the Franciscan Studies Centre (week beginning 18 march). And while the University has chosen to be secretive about the timing of its current approach, it seems likely that a ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ proposal, presumably based upon the plans sketched out at the ‘exhibition’ event last september, may also be submitted to Canterbury City Council next month.
The Save Chaucer Fields group really need financial support to help with cover the financial costs of dealing with both these processes. There are two events with which your involvement and support would be most appreciated – they’ll help to raise funds as well as being a great chance to have fun and socialise with like minded people. Based on experience, they will include people of all ages from outside the University, as well as University staff and students.
- On Saturday 9th March, 7.00 – 10.00 pm, there’ll be a Chaucer Fields quiz night at St Dunstan’s church hall, please see poster below for more details (and if you are a Facebook type of person, please see the SCF Facebook site). Please do buy your tickets in advance, so the organisers are ready i terms of catering and facilities.
- On Saturday 16th March, mid to late afternoon, a Fundraising musical event will take place at a venue to be revealed! It will be between the University and the city centre, which many of you will know…. Please make a note of this in your diary…. I’ll report more details in the next Blog!
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society